ARE BENCH PRESSES NECESSARY FOR CHEST GAINS?
Although traditional barbell bench presses are generally considered as a basic, “must have” bodybuilding exercise, the simple truth is that they are most definitely not a mandatory exercise from a pure muscle building perspective.
It’s not that barbell benches aren’t effective for building up your chest (they certainly are); it’s just that they don’t offer any advantages that a basic dumbbell press won’t give you.
In fact, as I covered in a previous article, a very good case can be made for the fact that barbell bench presses are actually inferior to dumbbell presses when it comes to maximizing chest hypertrophy and preventing injuries.
First off, dumbbells allow for a larger and more natural range of motion.
The primary function of the pecs is “horizontal adduction,” which is to bring your upper arm across the front of your body.
Since barbell bench presses lock your hands onto the bar and force you to press in a straight up and down motion, the total amount of horizontal adduction you can achieve becomes limited. This reduces tension on the pecs and shifts more emphasis onto the triceps and front delts.
Dumbbells, on other hand, allow you to press in a more natural arching motion which maximizes horizontal adduction and moves your pecs through a larger range of motion.
Not only does this maximize the stimulation of your chest, but it also puts less stress on your shoulder joints as well.
Secondly, dumbbells allow for balanced development across your entire chest.
One of the main drawbacks with barbell bench presses is that, because they’re a bilateral movement (where both arms work together to move one object), they allow the dominant side of your body to compensate for the weaker side.
If you aren’t careful, this can quickly add up over the course of several weeks or months and cause issues not only from a basic aesthetic perspective, but from a strength and stabilization perspective as well. (I’ve covered this in a similar fashion in my article on fixing arm muscle imbalances.)
Dumbbells solve this by allowing you to work isolaterally, where each arm lifts its own object independently. As a result, you’ll get balanced size and strength development across both sides of your chest, shoulders and triceps.
So, are bench presses necessary for building your pecs with maximum effectiveness?
Don’t get me wrong here… barbell presses are a perfectly viable chest exercise to include in your routine, and as long as you execute them with proper technique you shouldn’t run into any significant problems with them.
However, the purpose of this Q&A is to point out that:
A) From an overall muscle building perspective, dumbbell presses are almost certainly the superior exercise, and in my opinion should be treated as the primary chest exercise in your routine.
B) If for some reason you can’t perform standard barbell bench presses (perhaps due to joint problems, lack of equipment, not having a spotter etc.), or you simply would prefer not to, you won’t be missing out on any benefits that dumbbell presses won’t already be giving you.
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